New uranium conversion plant to be built in France

22 May 2007

Areva has announced the launch of a EUR 610 million ($821 million) project to build new uranium conversion facilities in southern France. The project, Comurhex II, will see the construction of the new plant at Malvesi in the Narbonne region and at Tricastin in the Rhone valley.


Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon described Comurhex II as "a key element in our strategy of offering customers a complete range of products and services to operate their nuclear reactors." The new project will integrate technological innovations from research and development programs with over 40 years of experience from the existing Comurhex operations, according to the company. The new facilities will also lead to major savings in terms of water and energy consumption, and reduced effluents.


Before uranium can be manufactured into nuclear fuel, most reactors require it to be enriched - that is, the concentration of uranium-235 in the natural uranium has to be increased. Enrichment requires the uranium first to be converted into a gas, uranium hexafluoride (UF6). At a conversion facility, uranium is first refined to uranium dioxide (which can be used as the fuel for those types of reactors that do not require enriched uranium) and then converted into uranium hexafluoride, ready for the enrichment plant.


Areva is already operating conversion plants through its Comurhex subsidiary at the sites proposed for Comurhex II. At Malvesi, uranium ore concentrates are purified and converted to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4). The UF4 is converted to UF6 at the Pierrelatte plant, on the Tricastin nuclear site. The plant also produces UF6 from reprocessed uranium. Comurhex also produces gaseous fluorochemicals for the automobile and electronics industries.


The Comurhex II site will be "launched" in summer 2007, according to Areva, with first industrial production planned for 2012, based on 15,000 tonnes of uranium per year. This could be increased to 21,000 tonnes depending on market requirements.


Further information




WNA's The Nuclear Fuel Cycle information paper